New governance to rescue Canadian sport

I tried to see if there was a common thread in the hundreds of abuses of all kinds that have erupted in various sports across the country in recent years. The list is starting to get long. Rather than pointing the finger at anyone, I want to suggest a possible solution.

Of course, there is no magic bullet, but you have to start somewhere.

This week, Hockey Canada confirmed an old theory of my B210 co-founder, JD Miller, that the vast majority of problems in federated sport stem from poor governance.

That is why, following the public disclosure of the victims of an alpine ski coach in 2018, discussions began between our organization and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to establish a new code of governance for Canadian sport.

Much work has been done. First we took the time to study what was being done better (and worse) in other parts of the world. England did the same and published the UK Code for Sports Governance in 2016. Several experts agree that this is the best example there is. It served as inspiration for the construction of the Canadian version.

I have to put you to sleep talking about governance, but please stay with me! At worst, think of Andrea Skinner, acting chairman of Hockey Canada, who appeared before Parliament this week giving a HAS for the performance of its managing director (Scott Smith) in managing this crisis. Mustard rising to the nose? Me too, so let’s get going, because it’s really important.

The COC, including its Chief Athletic Officer, Eric Myles, began implementing this new code in 2019, with the goal of its rapid adoption by all national bodies across the country. Consultations were organized in 2020, and the document was not unanimously accepted by the federations.

However, the proposals were surprisingly obvious.

Hockey Canada allows us to clearly define what elements impede good governance: opacity, collusion, dependency and homogeneity. Here, on the contrary, are the rules of good governance which, in my view, are fundamental.

  • Transparency: CAs should enforce it across the organization to prevent mischief.
  • Independence: at least 40% of the Board members must be independent. This term means that a director has no fiduciary obligations to any governing body of the sport in question at the national or provincial level. Besides, it’s independent the administrator who does not receive any direct or indirect material benefit from such party and who is free from any conflict of interest of a financial, personal or representative nature.
  • The number: between 5 and 15 members, ideally 7. Too large a board will not be effective; conversely, a very small committee can have a lot of power.
  • Diversity: a maximum of 60% of directors must be of the same sex. It is important to ensure good diversity, to offer a greater divergence of views.
  • The presidency: the board of directors must elect its own chairman, as he is in the best position to define who should occupy that position.
  • Representation of athletes: the presence of athletes on the Board of Directors is strongly encouraged. Any organization that does not have an athlete representative on its board must appoint at least one as an observer.
  • Term: Must not exceed nine years in total to ensure new perspectives emerge and reduce the chances of collusion around the table. The mandate must be renewable every four years at most.

It’s simple, right? There are several other rules in this code, but the document of about ten pages is concise and of the most effective simplicity.

Recognizing that there will be an adjustment period and that some legal costs will result from these changes, the COC is offering a grant to help sports federations cover a portion of the costs. How to say no?

If changes like these are to be made, the sports management community needs to be educated on what constitutes good governance. Once again, the COC takes its role seriously. In collaboration with the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, he has created a course on governance.

I am enrolled in this course, which started a few weeks ago with almost 200 participants. An impressive number that shows that people in the sporting world take the issue seriously and want to see lasting change.

You are no doubt wondering how this governance code could have alleviated the crisis that Hockey Canada is going through. Well, in many ways. For example, only one out of nine board members doesn’t have deep hockey roots (as far as I know). It then becomes very easy to create a culture of boyfriend is boyfriend which can lead to opacity and omerta. This situation allowed the leaders to implement over the years a system of protection for sexual abusers, which the Board would have turned a blind eye to in order to protect the organization and its friends.

Good governance would have done just the opposite, making the people who put that system in place accountable for their actions.

Now that the code has been created and people are educated, I believe Sport Canada should add its adoption to the list of requirements to qualify for government sports funding.

The Government of Canada now has sufficient reason to act. If you don’t, we run the risk of hearing about these problems for a long time.

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